The Taliban Framework Agreement: A First Step on a Long Road
U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad reported on January 28 that American and Taliban officials have reached a framework that could enable a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Khalilzad added that the framework needs to be “fleshed out” before becoming a full agreement. It seems that the U.S. and the Taliban have agreed that the insurgents must promise that Afghan territory would no longer be used by terrorists. Under those conditions, the U.S. would withdraw troops in return for certain concessions from the Taliban, and those concessions are now being considered by each side.
The U.S. has insisted that the Taliban negotiate directly with the Afghan government and agree to a ceasefire, according Khalilzad; however, the direct negotiations have been a sticking point in the past. The U.S. only began direct negotiations with the Taliban last summer. Before that, both American and Afghan officials insisted that talks be “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned,” while the Taliban insisted on speaking directly to the U.S. The Trump administration finally conceded, but only with the understanding that U.S.-Taliban dialogue was merely an opening to pave the way for talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, emphasized at the time that the U.S. was “doing everything we can to ensure that our actions help [bring] the Taliban and the Afghan government to the same table.”
However, a Taliban official who participated in the recent negotiations told reporters he did not think a further agreement depended on direct negotiations with the government or a ceasefire. The group is conferring with its leadership on these issues and it is still unclear whether they will budge on what was once a non-negotiable issue.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government is concerned that talks are moving ahead without their input. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani revealed a measure of skepticism, saying that “we want peace quickly, we want it soon, but we want it with prudence.” Of particular concern is what, if any, political representation the Taliban might be given as part of a deal. Khalilzad insisted that these are points that will be negotiated in direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and had not been discussed in recent meetings.
Even the principal point of agreement—the Taliban’s promise to prevent Afghanistan from being used for further terrorist activity—raises questions. According to Khalilzad, “The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals.” However, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State still operate on Afghan soil, and there is no indication that the Taliban can do anything to persuade those groups to stop their activity in the country. Each side has agreed to form two committees to answer some of these questions, according to a Taliban official speaking to the BBC.
Clearly, the Afghan peace process has a long way to go. Americans, Taliban representatives, and Afghan officials are still far apart on several issues. Nevertheless, after nine years of negotiations and eighteen years at war, this progress, though small, is still a concrete step forward.
Photo: Afghan Army troops, left, and American soldiers attacking a Taliban firing position in 2013. Credit: Bryan Denton for The New York Times